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Ellis, Bret Easton (b. 1964)  
 
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Bret Easton Ellis is widely regarded as perhaps the most accomplished of the "Generation X" writers, that is, those writers born between 1960 and 1965 who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as the voices of a generation separate from the "baby boomers." Although he describes himself as a moralist, many critics have tagged him as a nihilist. His works are distinguished by transgressive themes, a fascination with popular culture, and a spare but resonant prose style.

Ellis has long acknowledged having had gay sex, but for most of his career he unequivocally claimed he was not gay. Then, in 2005, he began to discuss having had a six-year relationship with a man ten years his junior who died tragically young.

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Ellis's fiction roughly mirrors his biography. His first four novels and one book of short stories are filled with sexually ambiguous characters. Then, in Lunar Park (2005), Ellis himself appears as a character, a middle-aged writer, who, just before the novel ends, begins a relationship with a younger man.

Ellis bears comparison to other authors who use semi-autobiography in their fiction; and queer authors who, because of their use of explicit sex, graphic violence, and metafictional techniques, are largely viewed as provocateurs who challenge novelistic conventions and traditional notions of "good taste."

Ellis was born on March 7, 1964 in Sherman Oaks, California, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles. His father was a wealthy property developer. His mother introduced him to the work of Ernest Hemingway, whose spare reportorial prose Ellis would emulate in his early novels. Ellis's relationship with his now-deceased father, who drank and continued to impose his presence on his ex-wife and three children even after a separation and divorce in 1982, was difficult.

Ellis took to writing as a boy, and finished a draft of his first novel, Less Than Zero, by the time he graduated from high school though it was not published until 1985, when he was a junior in college.

At eighteen, the author decided to distance himself, at least geographically, from his father's obsession with status. Ellis enrolled in Bennington College in Vermont where he fell in with an artistic crowd and received a B. A. in 1986. Ellis says that for him moving East meant finding culture.

Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero is a short coming-of-age novel narrated by Clayton, a sexually ambiguous eighteen-year-old student at Camden, a fictional college on the East Coast. As the novel opens, Clayton returns to a Los Angeles suburb for Christmas break only to find the same aimlessness and dysfunction he left home to escape. His fellow characters--young and old, parents and children--exist in a perpetual state of alienation fueled as much by materialism as by drugs and alcohol.

Clayton reveals his sexual ambiguity early in the novel when, though he is half-heartedly attempting to resume a relationship with his high-school sweetheart, he leaves a party with a young man. The next morning Clayton tells himself "it really wasn't that bad," but whether he is referring to his one-night stand with the young man or other events that took place the night before remains unclear.

Less Than Zero was a runaway success and established twenty-one-year-old Ellis as a literary phenomenon, a J. D. Salinger for the Reagan years, and the most successful member of a literary brat pack that included Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz.

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction (1987) is also set at Camden and is narrated by a chorus of major and minor characters. In the opening pages of the novel, Victor, a primarily straight minor character, tells us how he masturbates another man in exchange for lodging while traveling across Europe. Paul, a major character, lusts for Sean Bateman, whom he claims to have slept with. Bateman, on the other hand, never admits as much.

While not as commercially successful as Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction fortified Ellis's reputation as a nihilistic authorial presence who reports action but seldom comments on it.

Sex and drug abuse among the characters in The Rules of Attraction begins to defy realism. As Ellis's career progresses, heavy drinking and drug abuse become signature characteristics of his writing, as do violence and impossibly pristine settings in which beautiful characters wear expensive clothes.

American Psycho

With American Psycho (1991), Ellis's reputation took a turn toward notoriety. American Psycho is Ellis's first full-length novel and is narrated by Patrick Bateman (brother of Sean Bateman from The Rules of Attraction).

Patrick, a handsome yuppie who works on Wall Street, claims to have blinded a homeless black man and ruthlessly killed several women, a Chinese delivery boy, a fellow worker he envies, a boy, and a SharPei-walking "faggot" in Central Park. But it is never clear whether Bateman really harms anyone. Ellis provides narrative clues that leave the reader with the strong suspicion that Bateman may be deluded by his own greed and vanity.

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Brett Easton Ellis. Photograph by Ian Gittler.
  
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